BYOD in the Middle East

BYOD in the Middle East

  • The rise in IT spending is fueling the increased adoption of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture in the region, and given its inherent advantages for employees and employers, BYOD adoption is bound to grow further in the coming years.
  • However, BYOD adoption is accompanied by IT security risks arising out of lack of awareness about device security among employees. The situation is compounded by insufficient network resources and the lack of formal BYOD policies at organizations to manage security risks emanating from use of personal devices on official servers and networks.
  • CIOs in the region need to respond by preparing IT networks and formulating a BYOD policies, which are designed to manage this increased demand for BYOD and mobile diversity in the region.

An Employee Engagement Tool or an IT Threat?

  • Middle East is among the fastest growing IT markets in the world, with IT spending in the region expected to exceed $32 billion in 2014. As per the latest IT forecast by IDC, spending on IT products and services in the Middle East will increase 7.3% year on year and will cross $32 billion in 2014.  Nearly 75% of this expenditure is expected to come from individual customers, the public sector, and the communications and financial services verticals. The key growth driver will be public sector investments in improving government services, education, and healthcare services in the GCC region.
  • The rise in IT spending is fueling the increased adoption of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture in the region, as the increased proliferation of smartphones and tablet PCs, as well as increased mobility of workforces is forcing a shift in the way that companies operate on a day-to-day basis. A survey by Aruba Networks found out that employers in the Middle East were more likely to say Yes to BYOD, as compared to companies in other parts of the world.  The study found that 70% of EMEA enterprises allowed some form access from personal devices, a figure backed by Cisco’s 2013 Middle East ICT Security which found that almost two-thirds of employees in the region are allowed to use their own devices to access the company server or network.

Percentage of Companies saying Yes to BYOD across Regions

BYOD in the Middle East1

 Source: Aruba Networks

  • Given its inherent advantages for employees and employers, BYOD adoption is bound to grow further in the coming years. BYOD allows workers to operate on devices that they are comfortable working on, and in some cases from a location of their choice (e.g. home), thus extending flexibility in working environment.  Therefore, the BYOD culture benefits employees and bossts their motivation and engagement levels.  But its benefits are not limited to employees are alone.  Employers too stand to benefit considerably. As per Cisco Consulting Services estimates, the annual cost benefits of BYOD range from $300 to $1,300 per employee, depending on the employee’s job role.  In addition, happier and motivated employees have higher productivity, and are more likely to focus on innovation rather than just dealing with daily chores at workplace, thus contributing to the overall growth of the organization.
  • However, BYOD adoption is accompanied by IT security risks arising out of lack of awareness about device security among employees. The use of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets is expected to grow over the next few years, as the region is expected to have 850 million mobile users by 2017.  And most of these devices will also be used by employees at workplace as BYOD adoption increases – this is corroborated by the Middle East ICT Security Study that found that nearly 64% employees are allowed to use their own devices to access the company server or network. However, 65% of employees their own devices in the workplace currently do not understand the security implications of using personal devices in the workplace, thereby exposing the company server or network to high degree of IT security risk.
  • The situation is compounded by insufficient network resources and the lack of formal BYOD policies at organizations to manage security risks emanating from use of personal devices on official servers and networks. As of 2013, only 55% companies in the Middle East have a plan or a formal policy to manage the use of personal devices for work related purposes.  As a result, cyber-criminals are increasingly attacking internet infrastructure rather than individual computers or devices, with password and credential theft, infiltrations, and breaching and stealing data.  Therefore, it is not surprising that businesses in the Middle East are facing a growing risk of cyber-attacks as per the 2014 IT Security Study in the Middle East.

As per the Aruba Networks survey, the IT security challenge is accompanied by  insufficient network resources to support the influx of multimedia-rich devices, as 35% organizations claimed that they did not have enough wireless coverage and capacity for supporting BYOD.

  • Overall, the key challenges and concerns highlighted by businesses considering or implementing BYOD in the region are:
    • Securely connecting devices (especially mobile) to corporate networks
    • Avoiding an increase in IT resources and expenses
    • Ensuring wireless coverage and capacity
    • Ensuring device security
    • Establishing corporate policies and acceptable uses
    • Enforcing access rights to resources based on user, device, and app
  • CIOs in the region need to respond by preparing IT networks and formulating a BYOD policies, which are designed to manage this increased demand for BYOD and mobile diversity in the region. As a first step, CIOs need to develop IT infrastructure that is capable of supporting a broad array of devices without overburdening their IT staff. With mobile devices leading the BYOD adoption, this would mean increased investment in wireless infrastructure in the coming years. The requisite IT infrastructure development needs to be complemented by developing and implementing organization-wide BYOD strategy and policy. To develop an effective policy, organizations need to define and understand factors such as which devices and operating systems to support, security requirements based on employee role and designation, the level of risk they are willing to tolerate, and employee privacy concerns.

The key characteristics of a good BYOD policy are:

  • Balances security requirement vs. employee experience and privacy. It is important to develop policies that have minimal impact on employee’s experience, while maintaining the required security levels. Equally important is defining and communicating the level of vigilance/monitoring that IT department plans to implement to monitor device usage. Given that BYOD is an employee-driven phenomenon, a policy that is too restrictive or invades user privacy might prove counter-intuitive to the whole concept (and related benefits) of BYOD. So mapping the security requirement based on employee role is critical.
  • Supports multiple devices and operating systems: It is important for CIOs to factor-in all types of platforms and operating systems used by employees. While iOS is a natural choice due to the high level of in-built security, Windows (phone, PC, tablets) and Android (phone, tablets) have also gained immense popularity and can no longer be overlooked.
  • Is flexible (semi-BYOD): for organizations that have high degree of data security risk (e.g. financial services firms), CIOs can opt for semi-BYOD policies which allow their employees to use their own devices so long as they comply to a list of company-approved devices, so that IT departments don’t have sleepless nights over what devices their networks might have to accommodate.
  • Most importantly, a good BYOD strategy is focused educating employees about BYOD policies and ensuring compliance to alleviate related risks. It is important for organizations to not just develop such policies, but also provide guidance on ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ and best practices on using personal devices for official purpose. Conducting company-wide roadshows and training/counselling sessions, followed-up by online tests around the company’s BYOD policies is another way to driving home the message of the company’s seriousness about such initiatives and IT security at the same time.

We believe designing and implementing BYOD policies is important not just for organizations that either adopted or are considering BYOD, but for others as well since BYOD adoption is a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ for businesses in the region.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

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Your ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

Your Right To Be Forgotten

 

  • Some recent lawsuit rulings support the argument that individuals have the right to ‘redact results’ on searches of their names if the info is inadequate, irrelevant or out of date.
  • The right to   be forgotten is difficult to implement because the Internet is too open and the information is too fluid.
  • This whole issue of a user’s rights to controlling information about himself or herself will create all sorts of legal, technological and moral discussions for years to come.
  • Our existence in the digital world requires more protection but in a way that makes sense and which is based on a logic of what should and what should not be censored.

Five years ago, a Spanish lawyer took Google to court because he wanted to ‘suppress’ an old legal notice against him which kept appearing every time that anyone searched his name. It was information concerning foreclosure of his home in 1998- the same year that Google was launched- which he claimed was ‘no longer relevant’, and was an ‘unfavorable link’ that affected his reputation to this day. Mario Costeja González was seeking to assert the so-called “right to be forgotten“.

In May this year, a European court issued a ruling that supports his right and it has started a chain reaction that will affect everyone and everything on the Internet.

It means that individuals have the right to ‘redact results’ on searches of their names if the info is inadequate, irrelevant or out of date.

Since the beginning of June, Google has been drowning under requests from Europeans who wish to exercise their newly-won “right to be forgotten.” In fact, Google said it received 41,000 requests from people in the first four days, amounting to more than 10,000 requests per day. That’s 7 requests per minute and the numbers are expected to increase! Google are planning to hire new staff just to handle them.

Why did the European court rule against Google? Because it defined Google as a  “data controller” under a European law on data protection, which gives individuals strong rights over data that others hold on them.

However, there are many critics of this ruling and various experts who believe it’s just not applicable.

To begin with, the ‘right to be forgotten’ is hard to implement, as Google could censor its search results in Europe, but users elsewhere in the world could see that information and just send it to anyone in Europe. Additionally, with basic technical know-how or by downloading an ‘unblock’ product, anyone can change his/her country IP address and browse the web without local limitations – just like users in Arabian Gulf countries do all the time to access blocked sites.

Every country, or region, will ask Google to censor different information and the result will be a mess of censored/uncensored information by country that will not provide global removal of information.

Some countries may even take an opposite stance, demanding that the right to public freedom of information prevents Google from removing any information from the public record. Simply, any person should be able to know anything about anybody if it’s a public record.

Even if it were possible to force search companies, or social networks, to erase the past, it could do more harm than good. It would prevent users from discovering the inconvenient truths about those who would like their past covered up.

The Internet is now the depository of human history, but it’s not just about celebrities and public figures. It takes data-basing to a whole other level of personalized data, covering every member of society, due to social networks and search engines making every person searchable and identifiable. That’s why the Internet has a long memory, but you’re actually creating it yourself through your real-life actions and your online activity!

Sooner or later, you will feel that some information about you on the Internet appears to be unfair, one-sided or just plain wrong. What will you do? Can you actually do anything after agreeing to ‘terms and conditions?’.

You should take personal responsibility for every service you subscribe to and every piece of information- text, photos, videos- that you post. The culture of just ticking ‘I Accept All Terms’ without reading these terms must change.

When you join a ‘free’ service, realize that nothing is actually free. The service is exchanging the right to use- and sometimes own- your information with your right to use and benefit from the service.

This whole issue of a user’s rights to controlling information about himself or herself will create all sorts of legal, technological and moral discussions for years to come. As people’s requests pour into Google, you can also expect some ridiculous demands to emerge like someone asking for all personal history to be erased from the Internet. The notion of deleting oneself from the web is now growing as a demand!

This is the 21st century. There are our ‘actual selves’ and our ‘digital selves’. Surely, our existence in the digital world requires more protection but in a way that makes sense and which is based on a logic of what should and what should not be censored. This is just the beginning of a very long debate that could shape the information age.

The article is written by Zeid Nasser for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Trade the Market like the Pros Do

Trade the Market like the Pros Do

 

  • Day traders, Speculators, and Hobbyists today have access to various Internet and Mobile based trading platforms that can help them trade like professionals.
  • The reality of the market place is that your broker might not necessarily trade on your behalf, but theirs. The pros know how to trade, but we all had to start with the basics and will have to learn how to control your emotions.
  • With the history and basic knowledge it is obvious that no one can explain how the market works or strategies in a couple of paragraphs but to learn how to trade like the pros you have to understand the market. You have to begin with the proper mindset to trade like a market pro and you must practice, practice, and practice. 

Today’s investor has a wealth of tools at their disposal that were unavailable to previous generations. With the use of the Internet based and mobile trading platforms, “Day Traders” ,”Speculators”, and Hobbyists are better equipped to wage battle on their own terms rather than be at the mercy of the market. A professional is one who has taken the time to perfect as best they can their methods of trading from which they derive their income. However for the average investor out there the waters that enter into are a vast ocean infested with not only delectable and compelling treats but its also filled with dangerous creatures looking for their next prey. We won’t jump into the deep end just yet as there has to be training in the shallows to ensure that you’ll have a fighting chance to survive in the vast ocean known as the marketplace.

We’ve all seen the brokers trading in the “pit” or on the trading floor in an open outcry system bidding and buying and selling all types of contracts. Understand that brokerage firms are not necessarily trading on your behalf, but of course on trading on theirs. In the case of the futures market brokers are not ever cheering for you to have a winning trade unless you are in the same positions as themselves. Just like in a casino the odds are not in your favor. This isn’t meant to scare you off or deter you from trading it is just the reality of the marketplace. There is a “zero sum” game afoot here and just like in the casino when you are winning its probably best not to press your “luck” for too long. Sooner or later the house will recover their losses due to payouts.

The pros know how to trade as we have been doing it for many years, but we all had to start with the basics and although I know many of the major players in this market and honestly like me they put their pants or skirts on one leg at a time and there aren’t too many “experts” only those with years of experience under their belts. So you must understand the basics and you will have to learn how to control your emotions as they will motivate you to act in a way that will usually make you very very sorry you didn’t keep them under control.

With the history and basic knowledge laid out before you it should be obvious that no one can explain how the market works or strategies in a couple of paragraphs but to learn how to trade like the pros you have to understand the market. One of the best authors to learn from is Cornelius Luca. Once you have the basics of the market then you have to learn trading strategies which can be complex. One of the best teachers out there is Raghee Horner. Both authors are quite active and you can find their work quite easily. You have to begin with the proper mindset to trade like a market pro and you must practice, practice, practice. Take it from me

Options trading involve significant risk of loss and may not be suitable for everyone. Options & cash markets are separate and distinct and do not necessarily respond in the same way to similar market stimulus. A movement in the cash market would not necessarily move in tandem with the related options contract being offered.

The article is written by Greg Heath for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Amazon is stealing your customers by paying their employees to leave

Amazon is stealing your customers

  • Regional competition for customers shows focus on customer satisfaction as the key business driver
  • Developing a customer centric corporate culture is essential for success
  • Motivate employees to care and be creative to keep customers happy and develop employee growth
How committed to your customer are you?

No company wants to say that, do they?  And while the Region sorts out logistical, cultural, and human capital specifics, Amazon.com and their CEO Jeff Bezos are already doing a growing business here.

Now, while you may say the GCC and Regional organizations have adopted a steep learning curve to meet customer needs and things are improving; the reality is simply this: you’re customers are there already and they’re waiting with high expectations for you to take care of them.   And if you don’t, Jeff et almost certainly will.

Today, commitment to the organization’s success is expressed directly as commitment to the customer.  And in our Region and around the world, it has to be.  Otherwise you won’t survive for long in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The secret is to bring smart and creative customer driven employees and timely value based solutions to customers so they are happy and continue to buy from you. Simply said, you need a customer-centric culture to drive organizational success.  Commitment to your customer must be paramount.

Take Zappos, which has been acquired by Jeff Bezos’ amazon.com, and how they both feel about the importance of customer service and the need for staff to buy into their concept.  For Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s CEO, this meant taking his customer-centric philosophy to another level. Zappos employee training and orientation process sought to retain only the best employees with the most customer oriented mindset.  This paradigm was so engrained in its culture,  Zappos designed a program unheard of in the industry.  Hsieh referred to it as the “walk-away option” where newly trained employees were offered up to one month’s salary to walk away after completing their intensive training program.

That’s right, after finishing Zappos’s comprehensive and intensive training, newly hires were given the option of leaving the company to pursue other job possibilities.  About 2-3% would take the offer, but the vast majority, or upwards of 97-98% decided to stay.  For Hsieh, this method created an internal culture driven to be the best and drove out anyone who wasn’t as committed to their programme’s customer-based ideals.

This unorthodox approach, along with Zappos strong brand attributes, caught the eye of Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos.   After Bezos acquired Zappos, he tweaked Hsieh’s idea and adapted it to the Amazon culture.   Bezos has adopted a similar pay-to-leave program aiming to copy its subsidiary’s selective recruitment and retention strategies.

Once a year, Amazon’s front line employees have a chance to reflect on their work, their company, and their coworkers to decide if they are committed or if they wish to take a pay-to-leave package.  Those who choose to stay and forego the quick cash remain a more closely tied group of committed employees.

This kind of environment  is one wherein Amazon and Zappos are not only saying “there’s the door if you don’t like it”, but “here’s how much we care for our customers.  If you’re not fully on board, here’s the door and cab fare as well to take you home.  Thanks for coming.”

Creative retention and employee training programs like these may be a key driver to attract people to your company.   Furthermore, this could be key in developing an internal brand identity whose hallmark is serving customers’ needs.  And of course, no matter what your business is, when customers’ needs are met or surpassed, business succeeds.  We can thank Zappos for a creative option to building a culture of customer service and yes, Jeff Bezos for building on a solid construct in customer-centric thinking.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

The Surge in Online Classifieds

The Surge in Online Classifieds

  • Recent data reveals that classifieds ads are migrating to the Internet. The number of printed classifieds ads in MENA is shrinking, while Arabic language online classifieds websites are booming. 
  • The shift to online classifieds has improved the experience of consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer selling and buying. It also created billions of dollars in value for start-up founders and their investors.
  • Globally, online classifieds is a business that is mostly local or regional, where global websites are usually of low value outside their geographical area. For this reason, the region’s homegrown online classifieds companies have high growth potentials.

If you like to get your hands dirty with an inky, fat and heavy print classifieds newspaper made out of dead trees on a Friday or Saturday morning, and circle classifieds that are of interest using that bold red pen, over a cup of coffee, then you must have noticed that the number of classified ads has shrunk. This is especially true in the autos and real-estate segments, as the volume of ads has fallen over the past couple of years and even more so during the last 12 months.

Where did the classified advertisements go? You won’t have to look far. Just pick up your computer or smart device, do a quick search, or download a regional classifieds app, and you’ll find all you’ve missed and much more.

Between 2000 and 2010, US newspaper classifieds revenue fell from $19.6 billion to less than $6 billion. In fact, today most cities in the US don’t have a classifieds print newspaper.

Europe did not need long to follow. A couple of years ago, France’s most iconic classifieds paper –which was the inspiration behind many of the classifieds prints in the Middle East– decided to stop printing. While we are yet to see leading classifieds newspapers in the region shut down, it’s easy to predict that this may happen in less than 5 years.

A look into the regional print classifieds industry reveals that business from classifieds listings has stopped growing 2 or 3 years ago, while most titles have witnessed 20 to 30 percent decline in revenues and volume of ads last year. This year seems to be following suit.

While this may be bad news for publishers who made a bet on print classifieds, and set a blind eye to the obvious shift to online classifieds, the migration of classified advertising to the Internet has been a win-win for all. This includes consumers, small and medium-sized companies, and online classifieds start-ups and their investors.  The shift drastically improved the experience of consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer selling and buying. It also created billions of dollars in value for start-up founders and their investors around the world, which made-up -multiple times- for the lost value in print classifieds. Despite starting mostly with a free offering, online classifieds have been able to prove their success in monetizing users infinitely more than print classifieds, in a far more scalable manner, and with much higher margins.

It is not an exaggeration that more than 50 percent of the 135 million Internet users in the Arab world rarely use a print classifieds newspaper. From a seller or service provider’s perspective, one can get immediate gratification and results by posting ads for free, or paying a small fee, to get premium exposure without having to leave the comfort of his couch or wait for the newspaper print date. For example if you want to sell your car or house, all you’d have to do is pull out your smartphone, take few photos, tick a few boxes, and boom, your advertisement would be online.

From a user’s perspective, spending hours going through print pages and circling ads, setting-up comparison tables, writing down phone numbers and waiting for next week’s edition for new options is now replaced by a sophisticated search that allows you to look for cars by brand, year, body type, fuel type, and price, get in touch by email or phone, and set-up alerts in case what a user wants is not available now, but could become available in the next minutes or hours. The same great experience applies to real-estate, jobs, electronics, services, and whatever buy/sell category you can imagine.

To understand the seismic nature of the shift that happened in the past few years, approximately 25 percent of Internet users in the Arab world have used online classifieds. This put the total audience of top regional classifieds websites at an estimate of more than 35 million users per month by mid-2014. This includes varying using habits from daily to weekly or more, which far exceeds not only the audience of print classifieds, but that of all print media in the Arab world –be it daily, weekly, or monthly.

On a country basis, a leading classifieds website in Saudi Arabia for example reaches 250-400 thousand users a day, depending on the day of the week, while the leading newspaper and leading classifieds weekly in the country prints no more than half this number on their best day. In terms of depth, classifieds websites usually have tens of thousands of postings per day, compared to a maximum of several hundred posts in the daily, and low one-digit thousand posts in weekly print classifieds.

Online classifieds have become so popular in the Arab world that in some countries the leading classifieds website is more popular than Facebook. This is the case for leading Arabic classifieds website OpenSooq.com, which is a leader in its category in several countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. With a simple, easy to use website and popular iOS and Android apps, OpenSooq is not only leading in countries that have mature online audiences, but also in countries where the number of Internet users is growing very quickly via smartphones, such as Iraq and Libya.

In expat-dominated countries such as UAE, Qatar, and Oman, English-language generic classifieds website Dubizzle has done well by focusing on business-to-consumer advertising in sectors such as real estate, offering advanced search functionalities, and a more elaborate user interface.

OpenSooq.com and Dubizzle are joined by category leaders who have focused on specific verticals, such as Propertyfinder, focused on real estate in the UAE, and Haraj, the undisputed leader in automotive classifieds in Saudi Arabia.

Globally, online classifieds is a business that is mostly local or regional, where global websites are usually of low value outside their geographical area. The sector is also usually one of the first categories to mature with emergence of regional leaders. This has been the case indeed in MENA, with the business leaders in online classifieds mostly being home-grown start-ups that are now valued at tens of millions of dollars. That’s just for starters, as they have tremendous growth potential ahead of them.  I’d advise you to keep an eye on this sector.

The article is written by Khaldoon Tabaza for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Arab Public Administration & the Transition from e-Governance to m-Governance

Arab Public Administration

  • Development of a robust ICT infrastructure has helped Arab nations adopt e-governance at a fast pace.
  • GCC countries lead the pack when it comes to e-Governance readiness, but other Arab countries have also started developing citizen-centric e-governance programmes.
  • However, all governments in the region are yet to adopt mobile-based applications for delivering e-governance services.
  • Arab governments will need to continuously upgrade their existing knowledge and attitude towards e-governance to remain in the lead, as shown by the example of UAE, whose e-governance framework has evolved over the years to meet changing requirements, and is currently considered one of the best in the world.

Development of a robust ICT infrastructure has helped Arab nations adopt e-governance at a fast pace. Arab countries are looking to upgrade their existing public service delivery infrastructures, and according to a survey, the average e-governance development index in Western Asia continent largely comprising of Arab countries was above the world average, i.e. 0.5547 to 0.4882 in 2012. The performance is driven by the growing investments aimed at building digital knowledge-based economies that has led to development of the ICT infrastructure in the region. High internet penetration in the region has enabled hosting of government web portals to share information.

Further, telecom companies in the region have transitioned from voice services to provide bundled telecom services with 3G / 4G services on smart phones, and fibre-optic networks.  As a result, internet usage in the Middle East is higher than the global average and the citizens in the region are often classified as heavy users of electronic social networks having high dependence on digital communications. This all-round development and usage of internet in the Arab world has laid the perfect ground for e-governance in the region.

GCC countries lead other Arab countries when it comes to e-Governance readiness. GCC nations have been making efforts to induce eGovernment in their societies and promote digital transformation and literacy. These governments are competing among themselves to develop a new knowledge-based economy, which will reduce their dependence on oil, and enable them to make their products and services competitive on a global scale. As part of these efforts, they are creating service oriented and citizen-centric operating models, and developing electronic operating environments that have the potential to support the e-Citizens model.

Key initiatives launched in these countries include network readiness, infrastructure readiness, service availability, citizen inclusion, and development of a national identity management infrastructure. Further, technological advancements have enabled these governments to provide ‘citizen services’ through multiple delivery channels such as the internet, smart phones, or contact centres. At present, conventional service counters are the most-used channels; however, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, that own evolved government portals, provide lot of citizen transactions online. According to an Arab Advisors Group report, 20% of the portals provide messaging services via mobile, whereas 65% of the portals deliver transactional services.

The leadership position of GCC countries is reflected in the results of the Arab world’s 2013-14 e-Governance Development Index recently published by MRD and Orient Planet. Further, according to United Nations 2012 Survey, UAE ranked 28th (up from 49 in 2010) on the global e-government development index. Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, ranked among the top 100 countries worldwide.

Arab Public Administration 1

 Other nations have been following these e-governance leaders and there has been a significant development in adoption of citizen-centric e-governance programmes in the Arab world. The e-governance movement is not limited to GCC nations only, and this is reflected in the fact that by August 2013, 18 Arab countries had electronic government portals – these countries included Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen.

The increased penetration of the smart phones will lead to increased usage of e-governance portals and other offerings through mobile channels; however, all governments in the region are yet to adopt mobile-based applications for delivering e-governance services. Most countries in the Arab World have built their base for e-government services, however, provisions for m-applications and social media for service delivery is yet to be integrated completely. The larger and the richer countries are have been adopting the social media and m-applications in public services at a higher rate than the smaller ones.

Also, governments in the region will need to continuously upgrade their existing knowledge and attitude towards e-governance. Current e-governance practices in the Arab world have been shaped and influenced by IT vendors or consultancy firms, and there is a need to upgrade these practices to keep in-line with evolving citizen requirements. Such an upgrade will entail much more than just a technology upgrade; instead it will require a fundamental change in thinking where governments will need to act like service providers and treat citizens like customers.

Among other things, there is a need to provide single window system and integrated platforms to enable faster citizen transactions with the government. Such systems should also sustain the momentum of complex, cross-departmental projects, promote good governance, and ensure easy solutions to the change management challenges of governments. Finally, such systems should allow the governments to monitor their e-governance development and evolution.

Long story short, some Arab countries have made good progress in their march towards e-governance, but a lot remains to be achieved as online public administration systems are in the process of being implemented in most countries. And for countries already having such systems in place, it will be important to continually upgrade those to meet e-citizen standards being followed worldwide. The following case study of steps taken by the UAE should be useful for other countries looking to adopt e-governance best practices.

UAE – a case study for successful e-governance implementation in the Arab World

UAE adopted the e-governance path way back in 2001 when it launched an electronic card known as the eDirham to collect service fees. After that, the country has continuously built its e-governance prowess and today the nation is considered to have one of the most advanced and world-class information and communication technology infrastructures. UAE was ranked third in Accenture’s list of leading digital governments. A timeline of e-governance implementation in the UAE is appended below.

UAE Federal e-Government Evolution

Arab Public Administration 2

Source: European Journal of ePractice

One of the reason for the success of the e-governance model in the UAE is the hybrid approach where the government departments create new online services, while the central authority work towards building the common parts required by all departments, such as payment and customer support. This approach leads to standardization, cost savings and rapid execution. One of the examples can be “Markabati,” a portal from the central authority enabling people in UAE to connect with every aspect of vehicle service in the public and private sector. All the services can be found and transacted through the portal.

Further, the UAE e-governance system has adopted latest technology trends, and seeks to move from e-government to m-government. The country has one of the largest smart phone and mobile penetration rates in the world. The government had announced its plans to set up the region’s first lab to test secure ways to offer residents m-government services. Citizens would be able to deal with government departments via their smart phones without any restrictions on time. UAE has plans that all the government departments should be able to provide a one-stop store for applications and enable all transactions through a single login. Other initiatives include the building of a federated identity management system to provide secure, unique and tamper-proof digital identities to its citizens.

All this is a part of UAE’s Federal eGovernment Strategic Framework from 2012-2014, which covers more than 35 initiatives across four vital eGovernment areas:

  1. Strengthening the regulatory framework and governance mechanisms for eGovernment in the country.
  2. Infrastructure support of information systems in the United Arab Emirates.
  3. Launching and providing eGovernment applications and services.
  4. Development of effective mechanisms for performance management.

Arab nations looking to develop effective e-governance systems will need to develop long-term frameworks (like UAE) that meet their local needs and are in line with contemporary e-governance standards.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

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The Arab Digital Divide and the March towards a True Arab Knowledge Economy

The Arab Digital Divide

  • Most Arab nations have made significant progress towards becoming knowledge-based economies by making major improvements in ICT diffusion since the mid-1990s
  • However, the difference in ICT use across the region is so wide that it almost creates a digital divide with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on one side and the rest of the MENA countries standing on the other side of the divide.
  • Therefore, despite making significant progress towards becoming a knowledge-based economy, a lot needs to be done for expanding broadband capacity and spreading ICT usage in non-GCC Arab nations to create a true Arab Knowledge Economy.

In today’s fast progressing information era, numerous countries are focusing on knowledge creation and advanced technological development—together termed as ‘Knowledge Economy’.  In order to remain competitive in the global economy of the 21st century, most Arab nations are also utilizing the power of high-quality knowledge. They are laying out relevant policies and taking important steps to meet all requirements that define a knowledge economy and these efforts have yielded positive results as well. Since 2001, the Arab World has recorded the largest growth in Internet users across the regions in the world. There has been more than a 600% increase in the number of citizens accessing the Internet in the region. Some Arab countries have also launched initiatives for improving their education system and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure.

A dynamic ICT infrastructure is a pre-requisite for a nation to fully participate in the global knowledge economy and to accelerate economic growth – it is measured by the extent of mobile telephony, computers, Internet access, and new electronic applications, all supported by a dynamic IT industry that boosts employment and economic growth. There is enough evidence that information and communication technology (ICT) plays an increasingly significant role in economic growth. According to a World Bank’s report, every 10 percentage-point increase in broadband penetration in low- and middle- income countries accelerates their economic growth by 1.38 percentage points.

Majority of the Arab countries have made significant progress towards becoming knowledge-based economies by making major improvements in ICT diffusion since the mid-1990s — the mobile cellular segment has grown from almost nothing in 2000 to 87 subscriptions per 100 people in 2010; during the same period, the number of Internet users in the MENA region increased tenfold to more than 100 million, with wide variation across nations, ranging from 12 users per 100 people in Algeria to 81 per 100 in Qatar. ­ According to a report by Madar Research and Development and Orient Planet, the number of Arab internet users is expected to increase to nearly 197 million users by 2017, with the internet penetration rate jumping from about 32% in 2012 to over 51% in 2017 — this would be nearly 3% above the world average at that time.

However, the difference in ICT use across the region is so wide that it almost creates a digital divide with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on one side and the rest of the MENA countries standing on the other side of the divide. The figure below shows the disparity between GCC and non-GCC countries. Libya is the only exception among non-GCC nations, with mobile broadband penetration of nearly 43 per 100 people, a rate comparable with GCC nations. Growth in Libya is driven by strong government support, which compensates for the low fixed broadband penetration, and Libya having a GNI per capita of $16,400.

Fixed and Mobile Broadband Internet Subscription Rate in Select Arab Countries

The Arab Digital Divide-1

 Source: International Telecommunications Union, ICT Adoption and Prospects in the Arab Region 2012

Overall, despite the progress made, a lot needs to be done for expanding broadband capacity and spreading ICT usage in the region. Just looking at the basic technology statistics, one can easily make out the inadequacy of the region’s ICT infrastructure. For instance, the average bandwidth in the Arab region is low at around 1 Mb/1,000 people, compared with 40 Mbs/1,000 people in the U.K. and 30 Mbs/1,000 people in France.

High costs of ICT services, driven by monopolies in certain segments, act as inhibitors in the Arab world. In 2008, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia still had monopolies over international long-distance communication; Lebanon continued to have a monopoly on mobile services. Also, if we glance through World Bank’s report, only four Arab countries (UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia) rank in the top 50 on the Knowledge Economy Index, as there is a lack of a coherent strategy among the Arab nations to support growth based on knowledge and innovation. The region continues to face many challenges in pursuit of transforming into an information-based economy, which requires implementation of key cross-sector reforms in education, innovation, ICT infrastructure, etc.

Thus, there is much more that can be done for ensuring that ICTs are used as the tool for increasing productivity, growth and employment, and that digital growth in the Arab world is inclusive. As this is done, MENA governments should introduce and implement policies for improving the ICT skills of their workforce, which will make them more employable, more innovative and an effective contributor to the development of a strong and inclusive Arab Knowledge Economy.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Online Marketplaces: The new commerce power players

Online Marketplaces

  • Smart start-ups win traditional and new marketplace categories in the Arab world while traditional players stay on the sidelines.
  • While, early online marketplaces were initially launched as an extension of traditional marketplace categories, innovative marketplaces are now making their way into the Arab world.
  • The traditional marketplaces would do best to acknowledge this trend and react in-time to be a part of this growth opportunity 

Marketplaces have been at the core of commerce for thousands of years, and they continue to serve in gathering merchants and people who come together for the purchase and sale of goods and services. While marketplaces have always been at the core of economic prosperity for the cities and nations that had them, they have evolved over time –not the least from seasonal marketplaces where traders gathered in old time to permanent geographic locations, such as the famous Souk al-Khalili in Cairo and Souk al-Hamidiya in Damascus, and into modern malls such as Dubai Mall, in the Emirate of Dubai.

Yet the Internet introduced a new dimension to marketplaces, allowing pioneering start-ups to build and own generic and specialized marketplaces, focused on bringing together sellers and buyers on a technology and marketing platform. The Internet has also allowed these start-ups to own such marketplaces while extending their business models from renting spaces to charging a commission on every transaction taking place in these new digital marketplaces, and offering value added services to merchants and users. Most importantly, while traditional marketplaces were exclusive territory for owners of large capital and real-estate, new online marketplaces are now being built by smart entrepreneurs capable of recognizing an opportunity and executing on it in an efficient and aggressive manner. Moreover, the cost of building an online marketplace today is only a fraction of the cost of building a traditional one, with potential and scalability that is an infinite multiple of that of traditional markets.

Early online marketplaces were initially launched as an extension of traditional marketplace categories, such as fashion, electronics, and books. Today, generic online marketplaces, which include the famous Amazon.com and eBay, have grown over time to encompass all kinds of goods and services.  Furthermore, the nature of the Internet as a ubiquitous and seamless network allowed for the creation of new specialized markets for industries that never had their own marketplaces. Examples of such categories include transportation, healthcare, and financial services. The creation of these marketplaces has allowed consumers to request services from local and regional organizations across borders. This in turn led to the creation of several billion dollar companies, including the likes of Uber in the transportation sector, which connects passengers with limousines, MoneySuperMarket, which lets users compare financial services and products (more recently automotive services and home repair services) and procure them online from providers.

With the growth of Internet users in the Arab world reaching more than 135 million users today, and the proliferation of smartphone devices reaching 84% in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the time for online marketplaces in the Arab world has come. During the past two years or so several marketplace categories have emerged as mature categories in the Arab world, with undisputed leaders operating efficient marketplaces and growing at record rates, all while requiring a fraction of the investment of a traditional marketplace.

In the automotive sector, traditional car dealership markets have now been replaced by startups that allow users to sell their cars in record time and with a fraction of the hassle of selling through traditional car dealerships. SellAnyCar.com is one such startup; it was founded in the UAE and has now expanded into Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  Another is the automotive section of the leading Arabic classifieds website, Opensooq.com, which offers more cars for sale and requests to buy cars than any traditional cars marketplace in the Arab world, all at a fraction of the cost it takes to build and operate a traditional car dealership, and with unsurpassed convenience and market efficiency.

In the transportation sector, startups like EasyTaxi now allow users in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain to order taxis with a tap of a button on their smartphones, using a free app that automatically matches users with taxi drivers nearby. Not only does this startup improve the efficiency of taxi drivers, saving them the hassle of wandering in the streets, but it also offers safety and comfort especially for passenger categories such as women and teens, and reduces pollution and power consumption.

Innovative marketplaces that did not exist before the Internet are now also available in the Arab world. They include ReserveOut.com, which acts as a marketplace for restaurant reservations, allowing users to discover new venues and guarantee immediate and free reservations from the comfort of their desks or through their smartphones. Online food ordering marketplace, hellofood, is now probably the largest food court in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and Lebanon, allowing users to order in food from their favorite restaurants, rendering old business models such as food ordering by phone or through catalogues obsolete.

The technology and user experience components of online marketplaces have already been commoditized. This in turn means that marketing and execution are the key aspects for the success of online marketplaces. First mover advantage has also become key to leading marketplaces; early market entrants tend accumulate the largest number of service providers and users, and therefore they get even bigger and more successful with time. Furthermore, unlike traditional marketplaces, which allow competition the opportunity to start in new geographic locations in the same country, the national and cross-border nature of the Internet means that the leading online marketplace will make it very difficult for competition to gain market share. In fact, in many of the cases there is only a handful of winners in each category.

So far, new start-ups built by smart founders and supported by strategic value-adding investors are winning marketplace categories one by one in the Arab world. Meanwhile, very few traditional marketplace players have understood the major shifts taking place in the market, in addition to the change in tastes and the consumer behavior of new millennials in the Arab world. This does not appear to be changing in the near future. Smart stakeholders should move fast to leverage any remaining value proposition they have through their existing relationships or capital availability, and partner-up with leading Internet market players before it’s too late.

The article is written by Khaldoon Tabaza for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review